Officials at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) have expressed strong outrage over recent reports that Saudi Arabian tribunals have decided not to annul the marriage of an eight-year old girl to a 47-year-old man.
According to CNN.com, judges at the Saudi tribunal refused to consider the plea filed by the girl’s mother to annul the marriage, on a technicality.
In an interview with Digital Journal, UNICEF official Abdul-Rahman Ghandour said, “UNICEF is deeply concerned by reports that Saudi Arabian tribunals have decided not to annul the marriage of an eight-year-old girl. Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child’s rights."
He went on to say that the right to free and full consent to marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Consent cannot be free and full when either party to a marriage is too young to make an informed decision.
"Unfortunately, marriage before the age of 18 is a reality for many young women, not just in Saudi Arabia but in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Worldwide, more than 60 million women aged 20–24 were married or in union before they reached the age of 18. In some regions, the incidence of child marriage is particularly high, at 49 per cent in South Asia and 44 per cent in West and Central Africa.”
Yet, just a few days ago, there was a statement of pride by UN officials when Sudan passed its first-ever Children’s Rights law (see story here: www.digitaljournal.com/article/270779) .
In February, at a Convention for the Rights of the Child, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay had said, “Children are no longer regarded as the property of parents or the passive recipients of charity or goodwill, but as rights-holders”.
Ghandour stated that the matter is “being looked at very seriously and UNICEF is consulting with counterparts in Saudi Arabia who have been active on this front, such as the Saudi Association for Human Rights, to tackle this issue more comprehensively.”
The United Nations has a big role to play in such cases, he continued. “UNICEF works with partners to put an end to this practice and raise awareness of its harmful effects. The children’s organization works with governments to introduce stronger legislation to set and enforce the age of 18 as the minimum legal age of marriage, and to promote birth and marriage registration.
Because challenging prevailing attitudes towards child marriage also requires addressing issue related to gender equality, UNICEF works with religious and community leaders as part of efforts to change attitudes within families and societies.
UNICEF believes that education, particularly at the secondary level, is key in the fight against child marriage and other forms of harmful traditional practices.”